drone flying

European Parliament agrees continent-wide drone registration system

A Europe-wide drone registration system has been created in response to the increasing number of incidents involving small, unmanned aircraft.

European Union lawmakers and member states reached a tentative deal yesterday for long-awaited reform of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), which includes Europe’s first-ever rules on drones.

Currently, drones lighter than 150kg, a category under which most fall, are under the jurisdiction of national authorities and therefore EU manufacturers and operators are subject to different design and safety requirements.

According to the informal agreement reached, the design and manufacture of drones will have to comply with EU basic requirements on safety, security and personal data protection.

Any drones which could cause significant harm to people either by crashing into them or presenting risks to privacy, security or the environment will have to be registered and individually marked to be easily identified.

“Dangerous” drones will be defined as having a kinetic energy of over 80 joules based on their mass and maximum speed. The European Parliament had pushed for a registration threshold of 250 grams but EU governments resisted.

The EU Commission is tasked with defining more specific requirements, for instance on what kind of drones should be equipped with features such as altitude limits, maximum operating distance, collision avoidance, flight stabilisation and automated landing.

The aim is to provide a uniform level of safety across the EU and greater clarity to drone manufacturers and operators to help in boosting the sector.

EU member states and the Parliament had been bogged down in negotiations for a year, with disagreements ranging from drone registration limits to how much EASA should be bound by international CO2 standards to whether overflights should be guaranteed when air traffic controllers are on strike.

The agreed regulation also updates EU safety legislation for the aviation sector. With air traffic set to double in the next decades, the aim is to create a more flexible, risk-based system at EU and member state levels, which allows potential threats to be identified earlier, while maintaining a high level of safety and ensuring that European industry remains competitive.

Under the deal, recordings of cockpit conversations in planes will need to be downloaded to the ground in real-time when an aircraft is in distress.

The Parliament had pushed for the provision to avoid a repeat of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 which vanished three years ago in the southern Indian Ocean with 239 people aboard. 

The exact criteria under which aircraft will have to be equipped with black boxes whose recordings can be downloaded in real-time will be decided by the European Commission and member states at a later stage, a Parliament source said.

Member states and the Commission will also boost cooperation in aviation security matters, including cyber-security.

“The agreement today is very good news for air passengers and industry. I am satisfied that I succeeded in introducing all the EP proposals in the final text,” said European Parliament member Marian-Jean Marinescu.

“Provisions on drones constitute the first EU-level rules for these new participants in air traffic. The rules will ensure safety, security and protection of privacy for EU citizens.”

The provisional deal now needs to be approved by the Council of Ministers (EU governments) and the European Parliament as a whole, before it can enter into force.

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